With Whistler Blackcomb Mountain declaring an early opening day of November 22, it’s no surprise that even the locals welcome Cornucopia Wine and Food Festival every year with open arms and open pocket books. Cornucopia offers guests a golden pre-season opportunity to warm up their après-outdoor muscles during this 10-day booze and culinary adventure. Wrapping just days before Whistler opens for business, here are the top reasons why Cornucopia is worth the calorie and liver sacrifice.
For 17 years now Cornucopia has been evolving. Whatever preconceived notions you may have about Whistler’s annual wine and food celebration, forget them. Generalizations like being expensive or pretentious are not at all close to the reality of this festival and everything it has to offer. Depending on your budget, Cornucopia offers almost too many options. Fun and adventurous, the endless events, seminars, dinners, tastings and after parties will satisfy every slopeside character type on the planet.
There are other great places to stay in Whistler outside of the village.
Nita Lake Lodge has a big secret that will change your tune on staying in Creekside by 180 degrees. It offers a free shuttle service to and from the Village that runs until 10:45 p.m. AND a driver who could be called Whistler’s rhinestone cowboy. Glen is loaded with entertaining stories, has a killer personality and will get you where you need to go, on time. Staying in Creek Side has never really been considered the convenient choice for most, especially if you like to party until the wee hours of the morning… time to reconsider!
Nita Lake Lodge has a tranquil vibe. It is rustic cool with tons of Canadian style lodge luxuries. Aside from the shuttle service, other big draws include its lakefront location, close proximity to the base of Whistler Mountain and trails. Aside from super spacious rooms which are in fact very hard to find in Whistler, the 77 guest rooms are unique and inviting. Giant soaker tubs complete with shutters that open to reveal lake views, heated slate floors, mini kitchenettes, free internet and parking plus the mountain views are but a few of the amenities unique to Nita’s outdoorsy alpine style. In addition, après-adventure, the dual roof top hot tubs and year round lakeside pool offer guests the perfect R&R.
Everything you need is onsite and just a snowball’s-throw away. Whistler’s iconic torture chamber Basecamp Fitness and chief torture-trainer Marc Coates are known for offering the best in pre-season punishment. From Jivamukti Yoga studio to The Fix Cafe and dining at Aura, you will begin to find yourself dependant on these types of lodge based attractions. Don’t be surprised when you extend your stay. The Nita Lake Lodge sneaks up on you and then hits you hard. It tends to win you over in the end, especially when you need that extra momentum to keep going through another round of booze infused seminars and tastings (aka Cornucopia).
There’s no such thing as bad Bourbon.
Popular industry locals come out of the woodwork for Cornucopia seminars like How Kentucky Won the West around mid-week. You’ll find yourself clinking glasses with bartenders from Whistler establishments who will intimately shine a whole new light on après. Drinking in Whistler is a serious and lucrative business. The key is this… when you’re buying a Cornucopia event ticket, DO be adventurous and DO venture into the unknown. Sign up for a class, party or pouring outside of your comfort zone. Whether it’s a Bourbon, Whiskey or Sake seminar you are guaranteed you’ll leave feeling warm and fuzzy. Liquor education in the heart of one of the coolest ski towns in the world is an experience in itself.
There’s a fine line between eating too much and too little at Cornucopia!
When consuming food and alcohol from dusk until dawn, pace is everything. Easier said than done when you’re living in the Whistler moment, but remember… they call it a wine… and food festival, not the other way around. Booze comes first and then the food, so plan accordingly. If possible, create a personal itinerary you know you can handle. Booking plenty of food events in between the alcohol infused events will ensure stamina day after day. If not, you can always head back to your mountainside lodging for a quick shut-eye.
Make sure you know what you are signing up for. Luncheons like the Nourish Raw Food Luncheon are great for healthy inspiration but lack in sustenance. Although raw food is healthy, tasty and nutritious, it does not fill you up when you arrive with a hungry après Cornucopia stomach. Don’t expect a kava root shake to be a lumberjack’s breakfast. Key learning at the raw food luncheon: Coconut water blended with Spirulina is a green and clean cure for a Cornucopia hangover. (But it does have some stiff competition which we will touch on later on!)
The organic wine experience.
When you attend a three-hour five course farm-to- table luncheon and organic wine pairing in a stranger’s Blueberry Hill mansion, expect the unexpected. If bus transportation is involved, the adventure always begins… on the bus. Meet and mingle with 50 new friends who share a passion for food and wine and then unload into a luxury, socks-only environment and watch the story unfold.
Solfeggio, the Pemberton restaurant that put on one of these private Whistler home style luncheon events is owned and operated by Olympian Kristi Richards, a little bit of a hippie at heart. Not only is she known for her mogul moves, this restaurant owner has a reputation around town as a serious wine and nutrition buff. Local Pemberton farmers supply her popular ski town restaurant with fresh, local and organic ingredients. Each course bursts with farm fresh ingredients but… it is the raw Himalayan sea salt chocolate truffle balls that can leave guests literally begging for more.
Although organic wines like Covert Farms are all the rage right now, wine preference is a personal taste that must be individually explored. Indulging in the world of wine at a festival like Cornucopia will make you a wine snob if you weren’t one already. Once you have discovered your preferred blend, it’s hard to be swayed in another direction, although new and exciting taste test adventures are always welcome.
Celebrity bartenders showcase their secret weapon: sugar.
Only at Cornucopia can you drink your way through a cocktail competition. The Gibbons Group owns some of the best après bars and lounges in the Village. Cocktails and Dreams was a chance for the top Whistler bar boys to compete for the dream title while showcasing their creativity and expertise. Marty from the Longhorn Saloon mixed a Marty Mojito complete with fresh berries. John Dobie from the Firerock Lounge lit his Gin Lemonade on fire with orange zest. Lachlin from Buffalo Bills sweetened the pot with his Apricot Nelly. The idea of the contest: trade your tickets in and sample them all, then use your last ticket on the drink that will set the winning vote for your favourite.
The one ingredient they all used was…sugar, and lots of it. In the end, it was Marty who won by a single ticket for his mighty Mojito. Things like MC Adam’s DJ skills and the music from the movie Cocktail playing in the background made this event a great warm up to what is about to come this season. After personally engaging with Whistler’s best bartenders, it’s fair game to say that whiskey and beer are neck in neck to being a bartenders’ beverage of choice after a long day outdoors. Drinking sugary cocktails will punish if getting up to play on the mountain
again the next day is on the agenda.
Adrenaline cures all
After a mammoth stretch of wine and food events, there is no better way to wrap an event like Cornucopia than with a good dose of adrenaline. Thankfully, Whistler offers a huge selection of outdoor adventures year round. Flying high above the Fitzsimmons Creek with ZipTrek Ecotours is only one example of how you can feel alive again after a stretch of over indulgence. Getting active, being outdoors, doing something a little wild and crazy as well as educational will make you feel like a hundred bucks and get you amped-up on the outdoors.
The team of staff and guides at ZipTrek Ecotours are the best. Skilled, smart, passionate – outdoor adventure is the name of their game. What sets this company apart from others is the staff, safety and informative eco chats between zips. Believe it or not, these tours operate year round. Experience zip lining in the middle of winter (don’t forget to gear up) or by headlamp (nothing but the moon glow and some Christmas lights) if the simplicity of pure adrenaline is not enough and you need to go even bigger.
Getting your après on at Cornucopia is a season must-do. Not only will it fatten you up for the snow season, it will let you experience the world of wine and food that helps to make Whistler world renown.
Discover the ins and outs of après and get amped-up for the coming season at this iconic festival. Cornucopia is like a long Peak to Creek run where your stomach and taste buds do all the work…..and Whistler planned it that way.
Happy 2014/2015 Snow Season!